Returning To The Dehydrating Of Food - Life ... It's Why We Cook. Blog at - 234209

Life ... It's Why We Cook.

Returning to the Dehydrating of Food 
May 2, 2011 7:10 am 
Updated: May 11, 2011 12:14 pm
I’ve been trying to remember when I stopped dehydrating food. Must have been over twenty years ago. My dehydrator, at that time, was a home built one with a fir plywood cabinet, fiberglass screen shelving and a small fan. Vapor exhausted through twelve one inch holes around the top. The heat source was sixteen sixty watt light bulbs. You controlled the temperature by screwing in bulbs for higher temps and unscrewing bulbs for lower temps. It was primitive but not as primitive as laying the zucchini on a hot rock in the sun. It served me well for several years.

Then, one day, I had an abundance of shredded zucchini for the drier. Also, I had to fulfill a large meat order for a restaurant so I thought I could speed up the drying process by adding more of the squash than normal and not interrupt the meat processing.

After nine hours of preparing the meat, I went in to check the squash. The stench in the house was horrible! At first I couldn’t believe it was the squash so I was looking for anything other than that.
When I finally opened the dehydrator, there was a seething, brewing mass of dripping green flowing over the drip tray and falling on top of the light bulbs. I unplugged the dryer and as I carried it outside, it dripped on my pants and the smell caused me to be in a constant state of gagging.

I had set it by the compost containers and was returning to the house when my wife returned home and I waited to greet her. As she approached from the car, she suddenly stopped short, wrinkled her nose, squinted and said, "What have you been in? Oh! It’s awful!"
My reply? "Think this is bad? Better stay out of the house."

I won’t divulge any more of that conversation. I’m sure you can imagine many scenarios and I’m certain all of them will be close to the truth.

I never gave up that old dehydrator. It can’t dry anything in it without leaving an unwelcome taste but it was such a neat unit, I just couldn’t make myself dispose of it.

Anyhow, that was the day I learned a very important lesson of dehydrating. Don’t disrupt the circulation unless you want accelerated compost.

In a comment on my previous post, I described the food dehydrator that my wife brought home, thus, "... It is the Guide Series at Gander Mountain. That's their brand and the only large capacity one they sell. It's thermostatically controlled (90 - 165 degrees)and an electric heating element that looks similar to an oven igniter for a gas range. It has five sturdy chrome shelves (16"x14.25") with plenty of circulation area between them. It vents from the front so there shouldn't be any damage to any walls or woodwork. The cabinet is all stainless steel for easy clean up and good appearance... I found that the citrus dried evenly throughout the cabinet in spite of it’s square shape."

I’ll define dehydrating as I use it. Somebody else may have their definition or there may be a professional with an official definition. I’ll gladly watch for them but these are my definitions. If there is a common definition from an authoritative source, I will gladly learn it. In no way or manner am I trying to present myself as an expert.

I have an axiom that is pointless but it stirs conversation when I talk about food dehydration. "Dry is dehydrated but dehydrated is not dry"
For my use, drying food is removing all of the moisture until the product is brittle.
I see dehydrating as removing moisture to a point that I want to achieve. It might be quite soft or it may be nearly dry- but not dry. Quite soft might be removing the water from tomato slices to a point that the tomato slice can be picked up and stay together yet bends easily.

Here are my levels of dehydration. Each level has it’s place in how I plan to use it.
Deglazed: Removing enough moisture to alter the characteristics (usually of fruit) to make a firmer, more durable, product than fresh. Will have no wet or glossy appearance.This works well for soft fruits that will crush when folded with other heavier ingredients. Example: peaches in a fruit salad.
Keeps shape when picked up but starts sagging after several seconds: I use this when I want an item to keep its taste and shape in the freezer. Example: Tomato slices.
Keeps shape when picked up. Will have modest cracking when bent: Snacks. Has short shelf life outside of refrigeration. I do this to freeze them for winter use.
Very firm. Chewy. Cracks heavily when bent:  An example of nearly very firm would be fruit leather. Has longer shelf life outside of refrigeration.
Dry. Breaks when bent. For a crunchy snack such as veggie chips.
Very Dry. Hard. Shatters when bent. I use this stage for items that I will powder or chip and store in uncontrolled environments. Usually for seasoning ingredients.

I have many notes from many years ago that have survived the transition between the 70's/80's and now. Most would apply to the old dehydrator but many are still valid. Aside from being watchful of the dehydrator, making notes of your experience is likely the most important thing that should be done for affective food preservation. There are many environmental conditions that affect the consistency of the final product- even from hour to hour- so do not expect the same results although you are dehydrating the second batch of same food. Having notes to fall back on can make the difference between a good batch and an excellent batch.

I have used the dehydrator as an environment for raising yeast doughs. I set the temp at 100 degrees, cover the dough with dry linen towels, place it on the lower shelf position and then place a very moist towel on the upper shelf position. The very moist towel keep enough moisture around the dough to keep the raw dough from crusting. The yeast loves it! Tonight, I'm making a pizza. I'll revive this technique with the crust.
May 2, 2011 7:42 am
I like your levels of dehydrating. They make sense to me and I'm going to remember these. When my son gets home from school this weekend I'll share these levels with him - maybe it'll help out in his experimentation for drying foods for his backpacking trips. :-)
May 2, 2011 8:21 am
Fascinating Mike.
May 2, 2011 9:41 am
Wow, I have never owned a dehydrator and really only dry my herbs. It would be nice to try one after your reading your informative blog. Thanks!
May 2, 2011 10:42 am
Thank you, Mother Ann! I hope your son finds some use with this info. It's a continual learning experience so should he come up with an idea or pointer, let us know. OK?
May 2, 2011 10:46 am
Hi, mauigirl! Thanks!
May 2, 2011 10:48 am
Thank you, CookinArgentina!
May 2, 2011 11:16 am
Thanks Mike! I am seriously thinking of getting a dehydrator this year. And I can see in my mind perfectly the different textures you described.
May 2, 2011 11:19 am
he he, wish I could see your vintage model, sounds like a doozey, Mike (yes smokers, we have gone through many and even have a walk in for sausage/ham/bacon making). I have the round model, works well and is used every fall to save herbs, fruit, veggies and even some jerky before we bought the smokers. I want to try a batch of veggies this year in our smoker-no smoke-just heat and venting. I am thinking zuchs, tomatoes, peppers and perhaps some potato chips. The smokey flavours that linger in the smoker should provide a decent addition to these veggies. I made so many leathers when the boys were young and they still love pears, apples and bananas done to perfection. Zucchini candy has become a hit over the years-it's like a healthy jujube (semi healthy) there is a lot of sugar but the boys gobble them up every year.
May 2, 2011 11:21 am
oops, my parenthesis ended up in the wrong place-my post can now be a riddle for you to figure out what I mean:P
May 2, 2011 5:23 pm
I've got to come back and read this one again! Long day and I won't retain what I want when I'm tired. I do remember no beets or asparagus though :)(: Zucchini candy? Is there a recipe for that? I like that squash!
May 2, 2011 7:38 pm
Hi, Sassy! We decided last year that we would get a dehydrator, again. We shopped (off and on) throughout the winter and settled on this one. We considered getting two of the round countertop style but I wanted more circulation area. (Lesson learned too well.)
May 2, 2011 7:44 pm
Good evening, RG! Smokey undertones in fruit. I like the idea! Peach smoked peach is stimulating my imagination, right now... I'll attempt to post some photos of the old dehydrator in my next blog entry... I figured out what you said rather soon but DURN, RG! I'm only a man and there is no way I'll know what you mean!
May 2, 2011 7:55 pm
Hello, Cat! This will get you to a recipe for Zucchini Candy... ...
May 2, 2011 9:00 pm
Thanks, Mike for a great blog. I have a dehydrator, but the fan is missing - doesn't work that way!! Ive dried by air hanging, but want a real dehydrator. What do you suggest? This is an excellent way to preserve without needing electricity or lots of room to store food, and I've been told dried foods keep for a long time. Zucchini candy sounds like a winner of a way to make treats and use up the prolific produce.
May 3, 2011 4:34 am
Good morning, Mamaw! A fan is easily replaced and fairly inexpensive. It can be solar powered, as well, if your climate permits. If you buy a replacement fan, be sure to get one that has blades. A squirrel cage fan lays out a flat air stream and is not as affective... Here in Michigan, we cannot count on having sunlight available so we must use the power grid.
May 3, 2011 9:20 am
Mike, thanks for the website on your brand of dehydrator in your last blog. It looks like a terrific machine, but if I want that one, I'd better start saving now:) Love your levels for "doneness"! I understand them perfectly...hubby is a sucker for "leather" apricots and pineapple slices. I'm all about the squash and tomatoes, so maybe this year, I upgrade from the 1950's plastic model to at least a 21st Century model. Sunday we start putting seeds and plants in the ground! I can't wait for turnips, 'maters, corn, and squash:)
May 3, 2011 11:47 am
You are welcome, Mangel! I have strawberries, mango, papya and kiwifruit in the dehydrator now. There is a super fruit sale going on and I took advantage of it. That's what makes a large capacity cabinet so nice. All of them will be cured to the chewy state and then turned into fruit and nut health bars. But not until I have all of the ingredients ready. I have blueberries and raspberries in the freezer from last year, yet to do.
May 3, 2011 3:04 pm
Interesting concept, I can't say that a dehydrator is a very popular item here in Canada. I wouldn't know where to begin to purchase one here. I guess I would have to google it. I am sure that the benefits are great to making the health bars yourself. Interesting reading!!!!
May 3, 2011 3:06 pm
@ Cat Hill: Sorry to steal your blog Mike. I wanted to tell her about a wonderful book I read while on vacation called: Homer's Odessy, by Gwen Cooper. Since she is a cat lover too, it makes for a really great read!!!! I purhased it at a Target, it is on the best selling list, if you enjoy reading please give it a try.
May 3, 2011 8:59 pm
Thanks, Mike. Interesting and enlightening conversations on your blog.
May 11, 2011 12:14 pm
I hope you see this post, Mike. Thank you, thank, thank you. Mr. FedEx Guy delivered a sparkling new Gander Mtn Guide Series Dehydrator just this morning. Thank you for your clever, experienced view on these units; such a tough choice but I wanted sturdy not flimsy; this fits the bill just fine. One rhetorical question is haunting me: will I save money or spend more to try dehydrating everything? :-)
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Mike Harvey, daPITA

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About Me
At age 16, I began cooking when my mother was injured in an accident that kept her off her feet for five weeks. At first, my repertoire was fried hot dogs with pork and beans, boiled hot dogs with macaroni and cheese or pizza from a box. After a couple weeks of this, my younger brother was the first to protest and demand variety and my dad was quick to support him. That was my first cooking challenge, learning to plan a meal. About that time, mom returned from the hospital and from her bed, began teaching me things like roast beef, fried chicken, stews and all the sides and trimmings. In 1967, I married and my wife designated herself as the cook and this continued until 1999. It was then that I (voluntarily) began cooking again. At some point, I realized that I was having fun and began searching for recipes that were more challenging and interesting. I found AR and used it's recipes for a long time before registering and later becoming an active member.
My favorite things to cook
Soups. How can I go wrong? They are a great way to use up leftovers and those veggies that are approaching the end of their usefulness. They are always an original recipe. Roasts and steaks are favored, also. Getting the right "doneness" and choosing appropriate sides for a tastey and attractive meal is a continuing and always evolving menu.
My favorite family cooking traditions
If creating impulsive menus and recipes is a tradition then, (I guess) we have a tradition. A new tradition is developing. I have a fruitcake recipe that, I believe, is near perfection. I make it just before Thanksgiving so it is aged enough for the Christmas/ New Year holidays.
My cooking triumphs
Without a doubt, my own recipe for a Reuben Sandwich. It has been a demanded item for many years and I shared it in my AR blog.
My cooking tragedies
Too many. I have been able to throw them out and have something new before my wife gets home. Most of the time, anyway.
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